Assault on Precinct 13
Directed by John Carpenter
Written by John Carpenter
Starring Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charles Cyphers, Nancy Loomis
Release Date: November 19th, 2013
In 1976, having recently come off his feature-length debut of Dark Star, fledgling writer and director John Carpenter was given a small budget and carte blanche by a group of investors for him to make his next movie. That film would become Assault on Precinct 13. Originally titled The Anderson Alamo, the film was setup to be a modern western, based heavily on Rio Bravo, in which the outnumbered and outgunned barricaded heroes must face off against an unwavering enemy.
It is Bishop’s first day as Lieutenant in the LAPD, and for his first assignment he is sent to a police station in a rough part of south Los Angeles called Anderson to oversee its last night of operation before it is closed down in the morning. Meanwhile a bus transporting prisoners, including convicted killer Wilson on his way to death row, makes an unscheduled stop at the station when one of the prisoners gets sick.
What should be an inconvenient, but otherwise uneventful, delay for the bus transport becomes a night of sheer Hell as a local gang makes siege on the station as they attempt to get to someone inside. As the night wears on, cop and convict must join forces and defend themselves from the unending onslaught if they are to survive to see daylight. Everyone fights. Not everyone will survive.
Carpenter’s love of westerns and his desire to pay homage to the films of his favorite directors John Ford and Howard Hawks are all over Assault. The police station has a very “Alamo” feel to its design, with corridors and architecture that one might expect there, and through his criminal-turned-gunslinger Wilson, Carpenter makes subtle references to Charles Bronson’s character Harmonica from Once Upon a Time in the West.
Many of what would become Carpenter’s trademarks can be seen at their genesis in Assault, and it is these raw elements in their infancy and at their most uncensored which makes the film still one of Carpenter’s best after all these years. Carpenter’s use of longer, steady camera shots adds an air of menace to the entire picture while allowing the audience to keep track of all the players. His usage of a thudding synthesized score, like the beat of a war drum, keep the tension right where they need to be. His penchant for re-using actors begins here as well. Here, you’ll see Charles Cyphers and Nancy Loomis (in her first film role), both of whom would return for multiple roles in early Carpenter films including Halloween.
Carpenter’s usage of nigh-continuous uncensored and unabashed violence, and threat of violence, is unnerving in Assault. That violence reaches an early crescendo during a sequence in which a young girl is ruthlessly gunned down by one of the main gang members, which sets in motion the second half of the movie. It is still shocking to witness all these years later, and the lead up in incredibly well set-up by Carpenter (On the Blu-ray’s audio commentary, Carpenter discusses this sequence in-depth). It is as if to say, no one is safe in this movie.
Assault on Precinct 13, thanks to its western motifs and roots, has aged surprising well over 35 years later. Outside of a few outdated elements including the reliance on telephone landlines, the movie could be happening today just as easily as the gang problems, dangerous neighborhoods and even the subtle race commentary are still just as valid. In fact, the movie was remade back in 2005, to marginal-success, with Ethan Hawke and Laurence Fishburne.
For those that have seen Assault on Precinct 13 before and may already own it, this new Blu-ray release should be everything you’ve been waiting for in a collector’s edition. Originally released on Blu-ray back in 2008, this new release from Scream! Factory brings all the whistles and bells. It ports over several previously available extras including an audio commentary from John Carpenter, an interview with Carpenter and star Austin Stoker from 2002, an isolated score audio track, radio spots and the original trailer. Additionally, this release includes a newly recorded audio commentary with Tommy Lee Wallace, and new interviews with Austin Stoker and Nancy Loomis. The film is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio in anamorphic widescreen and includes both 5.1 remastered audio track and the original mono recording.
Assault on Precinct 13 still stands as one of the Carpenter’s best films. For those that may have missed out on seeing it so far, it is definitely worth your time to check out. It is a prime example of the “dangerous” cinema being made in the 1970s and is one of the best of the action-exploitation films of the era.